The Sergei Fedorov Jersey Retirement Controversy

One of the greatest honors an NHL player can receive is seeing his number raised to the rafters in the building of his team. Recently, hockey fans have been calling for Detroit Red Wing alumnus Sergei Fedorov‘s number to be raised as Detroit’s 8th banner, causing much controversy as the opinion on whether or not his legacy should be honored in this way is fairly split.

Last month, Darren McCarty joined Detroit’s 105.1 sports station and voiced his dissent with the calling for the retirement of #91.

“If you look who’s up there right now with banners is who should be up there,” said McCarty.

The Red Wings have retired the numbers of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Sid Abel, Alex Delvecchio, Terry Sawchuk, Steve Yzerman, and Nick Lidstrom.

Several things contribute to a jersey retirement. Factors include individual stats, superiority of talent in juxtaposition to other players, cultural impact on the team and the league; this honor is often given to those  who are not just complete players, but also have left a complete legacy in the hockey world. The weight of these factors can be balanced differently depending on the organization and the player.

Now, when we look at Sergei Fedorov, we can conclude that he is one of the greatest Red Wings of all time, at least statistically. He stands at 5th in all-time points in Detroit, ahead of Abel and Lindsay. Fedorov played in 908 games over 13 seasons with the Wings, scoring 400 goals and 954 points. The Lester B. Pearson, Selke, and Hart Trophy recipient won 3 Stanley Cups along with centering the Russian 5 unit, one of the most famous and dangerous hockey squads ever formed. He is 6th in all-time games played for the Red Wings. Especially during the 1990s, Sergei was considered as one of the greatest hockey players in NHL history, and his name was often mentioned with those of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, the other historical greats that were playing at the time.

It’s fair to argue that Detroit wouldn’t have escaped the “Dead Wings” era if it weren’t for the play of Sergei Fedorov that aided the team in its playoff and Stanley Cup success in the 1990s. Although Sergei seemed to live in the shadow of Steve Yzerman throughout his career in Detroit, his impact and skill are undeniable.

Fedorov somewhat tainted his legacy in Hockeytown on two occasions. In 1998 after his second cup win, he seemed to make contract negotiations with management a bit difficult, and he actually sat for the first half of the season until the contract struggles were resolved. However, whatever sense of greed that was established by the holdout was contradicted by his decision to use his base salary for the following year ($2 million) to start the Sergei Fedorov Foundation, a charity for children in the Detroit Area.

That initial blemish grew when he opted to sign with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks for the 2003-04 season after they eliminated Detroit in the previous postseason. This decision was two seasons removed from his 3rd Stanley Cup with Detroit. Fedorov reportedly rejected offers from the Wings and signed with Anaheim with a lighter contract, which was a puzzling move. There exists no solid explanation, leaving only varying speculations that have effectively left a bad taste in the mouth of many Wings fans. In his Joe Louis debut as a Duck in 2003, Fedorov was heavily booed. He was never the same after his initial season with Anaheim. He failed to reach the 20-goal plateau during stints with Columbus and Washington.

Is it fair to deny Fedorov a space in the rafters? Did his salary standoff aim to disrespect the organization? Was his decision to leave the town that helped him defect from the Soviet Union and become a hockey legend enough to strip him of this sort of recognition? Was his foundation a truly charitable cause, or was it an effort to repair the wound his salary standoff formed in his legacy? And is speculation enough reason to deny retirement? We have no solid answers for his actions in those instances.

What remains factual and un-arguable is his effect on Hockeytown and the NHL. Fedorov was Yzerman’s right-hand man in resurrecting Detroit’s hockey dynasty. Defecting to the USA began a movement of Russians entering the NHL, which lead to the formation of the Russian Five and the legacies of other Russian players. Most importantly, Hockeytown wouldn’t quite be Hockeytown without him. The same could be said for all the players currently in the rafters.

I personally believe that we should see #91 retired. I think he was the Sid Abel/Alex Delvecchio to Steve Yzerman. I think if Patrick Roy can have his number retired in Montreal after storming off of the ice and practically spitting in his president’s face by ending his career there (which is a whole different monster), it would be criminal to deny Fedorov that same respect. I don’t think we will ever see another player that can contribute such talent and perennial success to Detroit, although the same was probably said about Gordie Howe.

The bottom line is that Fedorov probably accomplished enough to earn a jersey retirement. However, the few blemishes on his career and their effects may just be enough, unfortunately, to prevent it from ever happening.

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